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Ketosis & Metabolic Flexibility – What is it & why should I care?

Ketosis & Metabolic Flexibility – What is it & why should I care?

It seems that in recent years there are a plethora of dietary regimens emerging that for the busy man or woman can be a confusing source of frustration. For anyone managing a chronic health condition, or the estimated 50%+ of the population considered overweight, the confusion & frustration can be dangerous. For any of us wishing to perform at our peak, in sports, career, intellectually & achieve healthful longevity, getting our heads around our fueling is critical.

I sometimes explain fueling in automotive terms, because people seem to be able to relate, & sometimes we may treat our cars with more care & respect than our own bodies. We have all been gifted with a couple of power stations; one which runs on fat, & one which runs on carbohydrates.

It’s estimated that on average we can store around 1700 calories from carbohydrates in the form of blood sugar or glycogen in our livers & muscles. All the sugar in our blood, equates to around 1 teaspoon. It’s estimated that healthy normal weight people will have around 70 000 calories stored in the form of body fat. Someone considered overweight is likely storing a lot more energy than that.

The issue is that someone carrying excessive body fat is struggling to access that stored energy. Their fat burning power station has been mothballed. This often happens with a constant intake of excess carbohydrate fuel, which breaks down to blood sugar, whether that comes in the form of sugar & sweets, alcohol, grains & grain-based products, root vegetables, fruit or honey. When we meander through life constantly carrying excess weight, it’s like continuing to drive our cars, with a red engine warning light glowing on the dashboard. The excess weight is acting as a buffer to some sort of toxicity. If we ignore that obvious visible signal, at some point there’ll be catastrophic failure.

Some people do not seem to carry the genes to store a lot of excess body fat & we  may look on at these people with envy, as they seem to be able to eat & drink whatever they like & not get overweight. These people may find that their warning light comes in the form of an inflammatory condition, which could be anything from a skin condition, respiratory condition, hormonal imbalances,  joint pain, cancer or any other inflammation that may get passed off & blamed on genetics.

In the priority of fuels that our bodies can burn, alcohol gets burned first, as it is understood our bodies have no storage mechanism for alcohol. We shouldn’t doubt that it is a toxin & acidifying to our systems.

All of us with a functional pancreas release Insulin when we eat carbohydrates, to utilize blood sugar for energy. Excess blood sugar is toxic, therefore our bodies will always prioritize burning carbohydrates & blood sugar for energy; this process leaves an acid pH ash in our bloodstream which requires minerals & nutrients to alkalize (we must keep our blood pH at 7.36, slightly alkaline). Insulin is considered the Master Hormone & a storage hormone. If we are constantly eating too many carbs, we are constantly throwing another handful of mothballs onto our fat burning power station.

Many of us may have experienced a period when we’ve exercised vigorously & diligently, for months or years, while being unable to shed unwanted kilo’s or make any progress towards our body composition goals. The cause can often be incorrect fueling through excessive carbohydrate intake. This is like putting some petrol into our diesel fuel tank, then driving off down the road & giving our car a good thrashing. Depending on what percentage petrol we put in, how many times we do it & how hard we thrash the car, it’s highly likely that there’ll be a poor outcome sooner or later.

When we eliminate sugar from our diet & lower carbohydrate to somewhere between zero grams to 150 grams per day, insulin levels drop significantly & in many cases so do inflammation levels. This gives our bodies the opportunity to dust off our fat burning power stations & utilize our stored energy. The combination of carbohydrate restriction alongside a plentiful supply of quality fats, hormonally encourages our bodies to oxidize & utilize stored body fat for energy. Other hormones are far more likely to regulate also.

If our blood sugar is constantly too high, our bodies will never get into fat burning (ketosis) mode. High blood sugar is like standing at the fuel pump, topping our diesel car off with petrol & once the fuel tank is full, just keeping on pouring so our car’s standing in a huge puddle of petrol. We wouldn’t do it to our car, it’s dangerous, but many do it to their bodies without comprehending.

Because saturated fats have been unjustly demonized over decades, people can struggle to overcome that indoctrination & introduce adequate volumes of healthy fats to replace a reduced carbohydrate intake. Some may believe that they can replace their carbs with increased protein. While protein is essential for the repair & regeneration of our bodies, it is a poor source of fuel for our energy. If we deprive ourselves of adequate fats & carbohydrates for energy, our bodies can convert protein into energy through a process called gluconeogenesis where protein (either ingested or one’s own muscle tissue) is turned into blood sugar. This is unhealthy, undesirable & can produce a lot of acid in our systems which in turn drains vital minerals & nutrients.

In short, saturated fats have fueled our species for as far back in history as one would care to look. They produce clean burning energy & leave a neutral pH ash in our blood when burned. The healthiest indigenous populations, living on ancestral or primal diets, get the bulk (maybe 80%) of their calories from animal fats. Healthy fats are very satiating, meaning that over the long term we are unlikely to overeat them. Our bodies seem to know when we’ve had enough. They do not come with the same high, crash & cravings that a carbohydrate-based diet does.

Anyone that’s currently struggling with a health or weight issue, & is currently largely carbohydrate/sugar fueled, may significantly improve their health through the conversion to a largely healthy fat fuelled diet.

To kick-start our fat burning genes quickly, if they’ve been mothballed for a while, will likely require a period of significant carbohydrate restriction, while ensuring adequate healthy fat intake. If this is vastly different from one’s current diet, this can require a level of self-discipline, learning some new habits, learning some new recipes…The first three weeks is just the beginning of a journey that can be life changing. Some will achieve effortless weight management for the first time in their lives. Some will see health conditions alleviated that may have been there for decades. Endurance athletes may tap into an energy reserve that they’ve never accessed before.

One of the kindest things we can do for our bodies & our health is to dust off our fat burning power stations & become metabolically flexible, ensuring we can utilize fat, protein & carbohydrates in appropriate ratios for our needs.

Someone starting from a largely carbohydrate fueled position can get into ketosis in a few days & achieve initial fat adaptation in around 21 days. The ongoing up-regulation of our fat burning genes can continue for years, with our bodies becoming more & more efficient at burning fat.

There are many diet, lifestyle & named protocols that incorporate this initial fat adapted position…. Keto, Paleo, Primal, Ketovore, Carnivore, Compressed Eating Windows, Intermittent Fasting….whatever we wish to experiment with or incorporate to suit our individual requirements will be easier & more beneficial when we are metabolically flexible.

 Disclaimer - I am not a doctor. These opinions should not be taken as medical advice to treat, prevent or cure disease. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, supplement, or exercise program.

Wishing you the very Best in Health

Nigel Dixon

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